16 February 2008

News and Observations, plus an Epigram

• I enjoyed this website, it has a collection of amusing quizzes about modern art and the like. See how well you do!

• There is no easy way to say "quiet" in French, since in English we apply it to so many situations, none of which has an exact correspondence. You have to be able to decide between calm, tranquil, shy, silent, still, empty, secret... the list goes on.

• For the past week or so, there's been work going on on the roof of a house next to my bus stop. Consequently, there's a row of about four ladders set up permanently on the sidewalk. I figured this would be a good way to find out if the French have a ladder superstition... so I diligently walked under the ladders every day to see if I would get a reaction. Finally, on Thursday, someone with their car window down called to me in a shocked voice, "What are you doing?!?" I shrugged and smiled, then chuckled when I got out of sight. Apparently the French do have a superstition about ladders. I suppose I've accumulated about 112 years of bad luck by now. But I assure you, this has absolutely nothing to do with the superglue and post-it notes incidents!

• My teaching French as a foreign language class (FLE, for Français langue étrangère) has three different teachers for the three different areas it covers: history and techniques of teaching languages, teaching civilisation and culture with language, and the linguistics of teaching foreign language. (Does that sound perfect for me, or what!) The two teachers we've had so far are excellent, but they do something that is decidedly un-French: they encourage students to participate, and ask questions that actually aren't rhetorical. Amazing, I know. I of course would be willing to answer about 80% of the questions, but I space out my participation so that I can give other people a chance to talk. However, they don't. It takes a couple pleas from the professor to get one student (out of about fifty) to raise his or her hand. I asked the girl next to whom I've been sitting why she never raised her hand, since I know she knows the answers. She said that she just doesn't. She's absolutely terrified of being judged, and says that the French feel like they're being judged all the time. They're all really insecure, and try to avoid putting themselves in positions where they'll be looked at. And I can understand where this comes from: if you're out in public, people will look at you more intensely, and more critically, than in America. There is a constant feeling of unease, and if I had grown up with that I probably would have been a lot less confident than I am. I asked her if she didn't think people ever judged nicely, like "She's pretty" or "What an awesome coat" or things like that, and she said she was sure that they did. But you can't tell, so better not to risk it. What a sad way to live! And it's to the point where it's interfering with their education as well. Good thing the French don't have a class participation component of their grades!

• My FLE teacher also told us about our midterm, which will be a paper based on a book we choose to read from a list they'll supply. She assured us (in French, obviously), "They're small books though, we're not assigning you paving stones." I loved that expression. Des gros pavés for large books.

• Finally, in my actual FLE class, which is French for people who aren't French, rather than how to teach French to people who aren't French, we've been working on writing in different styles. Wednesday we wrote short epigrams, which was fun. Here is a little epigram paragraph in English. See if you can figure out what's distinctive about it!

Long ago, in a land far far away, there lived a teeny weeny arachnid. (Even though he really appeared to be very tiny... yuck. Quite terrifying!) Monday afternoon, having nothing planned, the arachnid decided to climb up the water drainage pipe. A daunting challenge, taunting the arachnid from the northern edge of the garden. The journey went well for a time, and the arachnid neared the top. Unfortunately however, it began to rain and the little arachnid tumbled out of the aforementioned pipe in the forceful flow of water. Luckily, the daylight reappeared before long, and the abundant water evaporated. Then the wee arachnid could once again advance up the conduit.

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